Taking the Brexit

24 June 2016

20131243153252734_20Yesterday I woke up an EU citizen. Today, I don’t know what I am.

Like many others, I’ve held back from commenting on Britain’s referendum to leave the EU (the so-called “Brexit”) until now. This is mostly because I know a lot of my friends read this website and I’ve never felt it appropriate to cram my political views down someone else’s throat just because we happened to go to the same school. But also it’s because I’ve been online long enough now to know that the internet is a dark and depressing place at the best of times and trying to make your views heard against that background roar of hatred, ill-informed vitriol and downright trolling is no way to add meaningfully to the discussion.

But the referendum is over now, the votes have been counted and Britain stands on the cusp of change. And there is nothing that my words (like my vote) can do to change anything.

Last night Brexit won. Britain is leaving the EU.

Much will be said over the coming days about how close the race was. People will point to all sorts of demographics. They’ll show how Scotland voted unanimously to stay and how they’ll probably want another referendum of their own soon. They’ll point to Northern Ireland voting to stay and how they’ll likely be looking for unification with the rest of Ireland. They’ll show the oddities seen in places like Sheffield — SHEFFIELD! — of all places, which inexplicably voted to leave despite being a long-time bastion of liberal ideals. They’ll discuss how the “remain” campaign never quite managed to get their message across to the tabloid-reading working classes and that’s why the “leave” campaign ultimately won.

Image taken from theguardian.com

Image taken from theguardian.com

But they won’t talk much about people like me. British people who live abroad. British people who have foreign wives and foreign children in their not-too-distant future. British people, in short, who have always considered themselves European first, British second and English only a very distant third.

I live in Poland. My wife is French. European life and European culture flows through my veins and beats in my chest. It used to be that I was just another EU citizen living between countries as was my right as an EU citizen. Now, I find myself an oddity, straddling two worlds as they strive to isolate themselves from each other. Will I need a visa to work here in the future? Will I need to reapply for residency? Will I have to start buying health insurance when I travel to other EU countries? Heck, will I need to start taking my passport with me when I pop over the border to Germay?

And beyond these mundane practicalities, there’s the simple fact that I’m devastated. Shocked. Without any sort of hyperbole, this is honestly one of the saddest days of my life. I feel as though my entire national identity — my whole sense of who I am — has been ripped away from me. It’s nothing short of a mini-existential crisis.

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And what gets me — what I really don’t understand — is how there are actually people in the UK rejoicing at this result. There are people who say, “We don’t need the EU. It’s never done anything for us. We’re better off without it.”

Let me tell you something: Poland joined the EU in 2004. I moved here in 2009, so I’ve already been living in this country for most of the time that it’s been an EU nation. I have seen first-hand the good that comes from belonging to the EU. I’ve seen the workers flowing out of the country to other countries where they are more needed, thus helping reduce Poland’s unemployment rate. I have seen the influx of money and foreign investment. Wroclaw, where I live, is a booming economic centre: the home of Amazon, Google, HP, Volvo and Credit Suisse where I work, not to mention many more.

Did you know that when I first moved to Poland, there was only one motorway in the entire country? At the time Poland was the only country in Europe whose capital city, Warsaw, wasn’t connected to the rest of the nation via highway. At the time, if you wanted to drive to Germany you’d have to go via a road which was built by the Nazis. And note, when I say that this road was built by the Nazis, I don’t just mean that it followed the path of a road which was built by them. No, I literally mean it was the exact same road, foundations and all, which was built back in the 1930’s and never updated.

Now don’t get me wrong, Germany is fantastic a building roads. But 70 years is a long time to go without an upgrade.

All of that is changed now. Poland’s motorway network is vast and growing all the time. Its infrastructure is on a par with may Western European countries. The EU made this possible.

And you know what? The really great thing about free market, open border politics is that Poland’s gain was the UK’s gain also! Thanks to the influx of skilled labour from countries like Poland, the British economy boomed and its unemployment rate remained enviably low even throughout the darkest days of the 2008 credit crunch. Immigration meant an influx of skilled labour into the UK, much of whom was prepared to work in jobs that most British people wouldn’t want and for wages that they wouldn’t accept. And the best thing was that Britain didn’t need to spend a penny on educating these people or keeping them healthy through their formative years. Instead here they were suddenly on our doorstep, willing to move to our country and work, thus instantly adding value to Britain’s economy.

Really, The Sun? Really?

Really, The Sun? Really?

But the “Leave” campaign never see this. They see only immigrants and the scary refugees in camps in Calais and somehow they get them all confused in their heads and they start shouting xenophobic nonsense like “they’re taking our jobs!” Guys — you want a job? Apply to one which matches your skill set and then do better than the other candidates in the interview. Stop blaming other people for your own failures.

Whatever. There’s no point in arguing these matters anymore. Brexit won. The time for debate is over.

I’m in shock right now but I know that pretty soon I’m just going to have to face facts. The Britain I remember from my childhood is gone. The Britain I grew up in — that of “Cool Britania” and New Labour — is as much a figment of my imagination now as Nigel Farage’s much-vaunted Golden Age of pre-EU Britain. The fact is, I must have been away from my country for too long because I obviously no longer understand it. I always knew Britain was a fundamentally cautious nation when it came to European affairs but Brexit in on a whole other level?

I mean for crying out loud, even my own home town voted to leave! My friends and family — the people I grew up with — probably voted to leave. Do you know how sad that makes me?

How it should be

How it should be

Sad as it is for me to say, I don’t think there’s a place for me in Britain anymore. I don’t like what this country is becoming. I don’t like what it’s doing. And luckily, I was able to get out and move abroad before that border was closed to me.

So you know what Britain? You don’t want Europe? Fine, Europe doesn’t want you.

Go! Be independent if that’s what you want. Enjoy the coming decade of constant recession, rising unemployment and falling exports. You want to keep those immigrants away? Fine by me! I’ll just have to stay abroad instead and be an immigrant myself.

You wanted Brexit. You got Brexit. I hope it drowns you.

I am never going back.


Floorboards and chimneys and doors, oh my!

18 January 2016

Happy New Year everyone!

OK so straight off the bat I need to deal with the elephant in the room.

Yes, I realise I’ve been very quiet lately. In fact, I’m a little embarrassed to say this is my first blog entry in over 5 months, which is an inexcusably long time to go without checking in, especially for a blog which is supposed to be all about me. You’d be forgiven for thinking I was dead. Or that I had no life. Not that there’s necessarily much of a difference between those two states of being.

However, if there is one little thing I can say that might go some way to excusing my absence, it would be thus:

My house is finally finished. My wife and I are now ready to move in.

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A view from the front. The driveway here is brand new, hence the copious amounts of sand

That’s right! Months of hard work. Weekend after weekend of wasted time spent painting and fixing and tinkering and pottering. Piles of catalogs and endless trips to IKEA. Whole teams of workmen standing around in our living room scratching their heads as they pull quotes out of thin air.

It’s all over. It’s done.

Finally the end is in sight.

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A view from the back. Please excuse the patchy grass in this picture. It had a rough summer bless it

As you can imagine, I’m pretty stoked about this fact. Moving house was one of my main goals for last year and to think it’s finally happening – this week no less – fills me with nothing but happy thoughts.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a way to go yet. My wife and I are going to be knocking around in some pretty empty rooms for a few months yet while we save us enough to buy more than a couple of items of furniture. But the important thing is that the bulk of the work is done.

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The upstairs bathroom complete with custom-made storage unit for hiding away the washing machine

What’s more, it looks pretty good too in my opinion. Oh sure I’m well aware the style we chose won’t be to everyone’s liking but what matters is that we like it. And that’s good considering it’s us who will be living there.

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A view of the living area. To the right is the kitchen. To the left the faux-brick fireplace

 

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And here’s the opposite angle showing the living room with the stairs on the right. At the time this picture was taken, we hadn’t finished installing the skirting board, so if the blue wall looks a little unfinished, that’s why

Oh and as the icing on the cake, you will recall that I mentioned a couple of posts back that I was re-working my novel for the umpteenth time with the aim of finally posting it off to an agent.

Well, I’m happy to report mission accomplished here as well…

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For some, this will look like just an ordinary envelope. For others, it’s a Big Deal

What happens next is in the hands of much better people than myself. In the meantime, if you don’t mind I’m going to be right here, chilling in my new pad. It’s been a tough few months and we could use the break.

#dealwithit


Deleted scenes #2 – #4

14 August 2015
Luckily the editing process isn't quite this tedious

“Murder your darlings” – William Faulkner

One of the strangest things about writing a multi-protagonist story (or at the very least, one of the things I wish someone had warned me about before I started writing one) is how much it forces you to write a story in a certain way.

To explain what I mean, imagine I had a book with just one protagonist in it. In such a novel, the hero might get 30+ chapters all to themselves. The whole story is told through just a single set of eyes and thus, over the course of the book, the reader is able to fully follow the hero’s story and understand their plight. This approach allows for a lot of twists and turns and, consequently, a great deal of character movement.

Look at 50 Shades of Grey for example (and wow, how I never thought I use that book as a positive example…). The whole story is told from the point of view of one character: Anastasia Steele. Thus, no matter how much Ana flip-flops in her relationship with Christian Grey (and boy, does she flip-flop), it doesn’t matter. We go right along with it.

Multi-protagonist novels, however, are very different beasts.

When your plot needs an infographic to explain it, you know you're in trouble

When your plot needs an infographic to explain it, you know you’re in trouble

On the one hand, having more characters means that the scope of your novel can be wider (since you have more eyes in more places showing the reader more aspects of your world) but the flip-side of this is that unless you’re lucky enough to have all of your viewpoint characters in the same place at the same time (in which case, why on Earth do you need to have multiple protagonists to begin with?), the individual plotlines for each character become quickly diluted.

When each character has only 5-10 chapters dedicated to them and the reader might not encounter that character again for several hundred pages at a time, it becomes increasingly important to keep each of those characters constrained to plots which can be easily summarised and understood. Your characters need simple throughlines and clear resolutions. There is little room for ambiguity.

So many protagonists... Best make them all stereotypes and give them 3-4 scenes each

So many protagonists… Best make them all stereotypes and give them 3-4 scenes each

It’s a law of diminishing returns: the more complex your novel becomes, the simpler its individual storylines must be in order to avoid your reader getting lost in a maze of byzantine plot twists.

Which is exactly the situation I found myself in with my main character, Abigail Leighton.

Abi’s story was always centered on the theme of identity and belonging. She is caught between the two worlds of the bunks and the nobility, belonging to neither and yet hated by both. Hers is a unique position, and one from which the reader is able to fully grasp the multi-faceted issues plaguing the ship. (Or at least, that was the theory).

Australian model Gemma Ward. Her innocent yet determined appearence informed much of Abi's character

Australian model Gemma Ward. Her innocent yet determined appearance was a big inspiration when writing Abi

Originally the plan was to have Abi break out of the bunks near the beginning of the book (which she still does), betraying her best friend in the process (ditto). Later, she would find that the outside world isn’t quite the land of milk and honey she’d always thought it would be (which is still the case) so she goes back to the bunks, begs forgiveness from her friend and then together they break the unspoken out of bondage and lead a rebellion against the ship, thus creating a third, new choice for her.

The problem was… that last part was too complex. If I had 20-30 chapters dedicated to Abi, I might have been able to make it work. But squeezed into just 10 chapters it just came across as her being indecisive, flip-flopping from one chapter to the next between wanting to be in the bunks, then out of them and then back again. It strained credibility.

Plus there’s the fact that no one would choose to return to the bunks. No one. It doesn’t matter how neat and tidy it made my narrative arc or how much thematic sense it made. The simple fact is that Abi, the character, would never return to the bunks even if you paid her and thus by shoehorning such a face-heel turn into the book I was doing her character a dis-service.

Abi might be many things, but an idiot she is not.

So instead I chose to postpone the reunion between Abi and her friend into the next book where it would happen on more even terms. The denouement of Abi’s story line changed from one of her instigating the rebellion to her actively fighting against it instead. Her story became simpler and easier to follow. A clean arc, shorn of ambiguity which (*spoilers*) ends with her becoming a hero.

Unfortunately, this leaves my original ending somewhat in limbo. There is no place in the novel now for Abi the would-be terrorist or her flip-flopping shenanigans. Thus, I present three chapters to you here. Three deleted scenes which will never make it into the book.

Click here to read deleted scene #2: Back from Exile (PDF)

Click here to read deleted scene #3: The More things Change (PDF)

Click here to read deleted scene #4: Undertakings (PDF)

As with my previous deleted scene, these chapters are far from perfect. Expect to see spelling errors, redundancies and other writerly ticks that would normally get weeded out during the editing process. Despite this, I like these chapters a lot and it’s sad I couldn’t find a place for them in the final mix. But ultimately the need of the story much come first. There is little room in multi-protagonist novels for needless complexity.

I hope you enjoy them.


Deleted scene #1: The Black Sea

3 August 2015
Luckily the editing process isn't quite this tedious

Luckily the editing process isn’t quite this tedious

As promised in my most recent blog post, I’m currently hard at work redrafting my novel the Arkship Ulysses for what will absolutely, definitely be the final time. Probably.

In the meantime, I thought it might be interesting to share with you some of the scenes which never made it into the final cut.

As with any long-form piece of work, writing a novel often involves a lot of trial and error. It’s difficult to know exactly where a story is going when you sit down to write it and of course that inevitably results a lot of extra material which never sees the light of day.

How much extra material you ask? Well let me put it this way: the first draft of my novel completed in December 2012 was about 250,000 words long. The second draft, completed December 2014 was 160,000 words long.

Yeah, that’s a lot.

Now before I do this please be aware of a couple of things:

  1. The writing in these extracts isn’t fully polished. This is very much a work-in-progress here so expect to see a lot of repetitions, redundancies and other writerly ticks that the editing process normally takes care of
  2. These scenes no longer have any place in the book. It’s not like you can easily slot them into some place in the novel and have them make sense. Unfortunately things have moved around so much by this point that these scenes no longer fit without significant re-writes to their entry points.

All clear? OK so without any further ado I give you deleted scene #1.

Deleted scene #1: The Black Sea

Click here to read Deleted Scene #1: The Black Sea (PDF).

This ‘scene’ (actually 4,000 words long, which is long enough to make it a chapter in its own right) is the telling of an old Earth legend. The story Susan tells Stuart in this chapter is a simple one but it’s one I’ve always had a soft spot for because of how thematically resonant it is with the rest of the book as well as with Stuart’s character arc as a whole.

It also tells us a lot about the back-story of this world without being extremely in-your-face about it. I’ve always liked it when the world building of novels is done by the reader as much as it is by the writer and this story is, I feel, a perfect example of this. When you read it you get a real sense for the role of faith in people’s lives and how the citizens of the Ulysses perceive their religion as well as the catastrophe which stranded them among the stars in the first place.

As you can probably tell from the way I’m talking about this scene, I really like it a lot and I honestly wrestled with it a long time before finally deciding to delete it. Despite how much I enjoy it, it is ultimately 4,000 words of what is essentially filler and I can’t really justify that in a book that’s already well over its recommended length.

Anyway, if you’re interested in keeping score, this scene would have taken place during what is now Chapter 24: The Metapath. It even ends in a very similar way.

I hope you enjoy it.


Returning to the Arkship Ulysses

20 July 2015

As many of you know by now, I finished writing my epic SF novel the Arkship Ulysses at the tail-end of last year. I may have mentioned it once or twice.

Needless to say, the whole endeavor was a labour of love from beginning to end. Writing on the Arkship Ulysses spanned nearly 5 whole years – a depressingly long chunk of time to devote to telling a story I’ve had going round my head since I was 14 years old but a necessary one.

712L The Observers web

I have no idea why I keep using this picture to illustrate the Arkship Ulysses. I guess I just like it

The end result was good, although I’d be lying if I said it ended up close to what I originally envisioned. For one thing, it was a lot longer than expected, so much so that I had to cut the story in two and add in a sequel I’ve been trying to plot out ever since. At least 2 major characters were chopped out of the final cut, one of whom was originally supposed to be the book’s hero. There were whole chapters that I’ve even talked about on this blog that never made it into the final edit.

Still, I have to count it as a success overall, not least because it actually received an honest-to-God review online! And believe me: for an unpublished, unknown author like myself to receive any sort of unsolicited attention is a very rare and humbling thing indeed.

A couple of choice quotes from The Finder’s Saga review linked above:

“Burgess story and writing are epic. The chapters are long but the writing rich with description and dialog.”

“I find the plot intriguing and the characters strong, rich and multidimensional. The characters have motivations, fears, hope and all the emotions necessary for a rich story.”

“I find his setting descriptions and the background story believable and essential to the plot.”

Those are all really nice things to say about my work and I’m honestly chuffed to bits and extremely humbled that The Finder’s Saga would commit an entire blog post just to talking about yours truly. One of these days I’ll return the favour man, I promise.

And by the way, reading nice things about myself: Strangest. Feeling. Ever.

Special thanks to The Finder's Saga for the really kind words

Special thanks to The Finder’s Saga for the really kind words. It was very humbling

Anyway, in his book On Writing, Stephen King says it’s often a good idea to let a novel sit for a few months after you’ve finished writing it before you start with the redraft. He says that when you first finish working on a novel, you’re too close to it. You’re too invested in the characters and too close to the story to have any sort of objective opinion about it.

He recommends taking a step back and leaving it in a drawer for a few months while you work on other things.

This book is pretty much my bible when it comes to approaching creative work

This book is pretty much my bible when it comes to approaching creative work

It has now been six months since I last wrote about the Arkship Ulysses. In the meantime I have, in accordance with King’s advice, been doing other things. Lots of other things. Now, finally, I think I’m ready to jump back in to this beast and make some much-needed (and final) edits.

“What edits?” I hear you cry.

Well as it happens I actually made a list of patch notes whilst writing the first draft in anticipation of this day. These are basically moments during the writing process in which I was aware of contradicting myself but didn’t want to go back and fix them in the interests of moving things forwards. The list I’m about to print here probably won’t make much sense unless you’ve read the book as closely as I have but hopefully it will put into context just how much redraft work needs to be done.

In short, it will involve writing one completely new chapter and extending two more as well as numerous other fixes which will mostly involve a lot of CTRL+H work.

writers-block

Note: I will not actually be using a typewriter to make these edits

Fixes needed are:

  1. Make Nathan Hathaway Master-at-arms not Chief of Marines
  2. Don’t kill Tundra until chapter 15
  3. In chapter 14, Rutherford tells Kara that she’s due to move into the Captain’s quarters – not ones that he himself is funding
  4. Change Ramiel Sullivan to Gabriel Sullivan throughout.
  5. In chapter 17, it is taking place on the morning of Earth Day not the evening. People are still getting ready and when he listens to the Captain, he’s talking about how nervous he is about meeting Kara for the first time and whether he really needs to. He’s told it’s mandatory.
  6. It’s Commander Fletcher, not Albright
  7. Stuart when he goes to Oxley: he is publicly thrown out but still secretly helped. Oxley sends Sarah to give Stuart a map. ‘The best nodes can be found here’. And then they share a shot of something (this contains the gene seed for the Metapath). Stuart perhaps vaguely guesses this near the end of the book but it’s not until the sequel that all becomes clear.
  8. Remove the character of Rutherford. Where he currently exists, make it all Nathan Hathaway. Put Rutherford as a far more professional soldier type. Keeping his superior’s secrets and covering up for him out of loyalty. A much better replacement for him in the second book when he takes over as master-at-arms. It’s Rutherford that interrogates Stuart, not Hathaway
  9. Give each department head a cool-sounding naval name. Boatswain (chief of maintenance) for example. Chaplain, Master Shipwright (chief engineer), Wardmaster (medical), Ordnance, pursers (administration), etc.
  10. Show Estavan getting pulled away for interrogation better than currently

As well as generally giving it a spit and polish and cutting its length by at least 5%.

Additional scenes to add:

  1. Before being rescued from the bunks. A scene where Abi is burying her father. Her friends gather around her wrapping up his body and leaving it out for the priest. There’s nothing left to keep her here now, she thinks. Its time she makes a break for freedom. Brent is marveling over Kara. This is the girl the uniforms are all het up over? Dawn reveals her plan to use her. He offers to take her in to show the Gentleman. They’re putting an army together. Plans to attack the ship. Abi rolls her eyes at the words. It’s all show boating, she thinks. Still she gives the uprising her blessing. He’s angry now about father’s death. He doesn’t know what he’s saying.
  2. After visiting the bunks to try and see Dawn. Abi goes looking for what remains of her old life. There is little left. Her old quarters are all in the hands of the Oxleys. She manages to look up Stuart in the directory but his quarters are deserted. They are tiny and a mess. Equations everywhere. Old ship parts he was tinkering with. She finds a small box tucked away under the bed containing the old family crest. She remembers how it used to adorn her father’s chest when he still wore the uniform of master shipwright. Remembers him cold beneath the touch as they laid his body out to be collected by priests. She takes it with her.
    Outside she runs into the landlady who scowls at her. Says Stuart is two weeks late paying his rent. She’s going to kick him out. She thinks Abi is a whore he’s hired. She takes the box of goods from Abi. Abi protests. I’m his sister. But the landlady takes one look at the number on her arm and shoos her away. Abi returns to her quarters alone. That’s when she cries.
  3. Final chapter to resolve everything. The Captain sits in his quarters going over the reports coming in. The ship is a mess, the nobility are at each other’s throats in outrage and he doesn’t know who to trust anymore. He trusts Abi, however, for reasons Abi doesn’t understand. He asks her to help him find a genuine long-term solution to the issue with the bunks. He reinstates House Leighton which his father pulled down years ago. He names her ambassador to the bunks. Abi reluctantly accepts.
work-in-progress

“A movie is never finished, only abandoned.” – George Lucas. Suffice to say, it’s the same with books.

Phew! Well anyway, that’s all for now. I’m going to give myself 3 months to make all of the changes listed above. At the very least I hope to be done by my birthday when I can finally start sending this thing off for submission and working on another novel instead. As always I will post my progress here.

I also plan to start posting some deleted scenes on here which never made it into the final cut. Think of them as Director Bonuses if you will, a nice little extra for those of you who have been following me this far.

Watch this space!


RIP Mr. Iwata

13 July 2015

satoru_iwata

Today is a sad day for all gamers and fans of Nintendo in particular. Last night Nintendo president Satoru Iwata passed away of a bile duct growth. He was 55 years old.

Normally I don’t comment on these sorts of issues. This website was always supposed to be a forum for my writing first and foremost and not a place for real world news but in many ways Mr. Iwata was such a huge source of inspiration to me over the years it would be callous of me to ignore it. The games he brought into my life were sources of inspiration to me at times when I had all but lost hope. They reminded me of the importance of fun and for that I will always be grateful.

Since becoming Nintendo’s president in 2002, Mr. Iwata helped to spearhead the Japanese company’s return to dominance within a video game industry which had all but forgotten the name Nintendo. His work and his games were a huge inspiration to me and his absence will sorely be missed.

Satoru-Iwata-Luigi-Nintendo-Direct-G3AR

During his life, Mr. Iwata spent most of his career working at Nintendo and HAL Laboratory. As a coder he had a huge role to play in classic titles such as EarthBound, Kirby, Balloon Trip and Smash Bros. As president of Nintendo, he oversaw the launch of the DS, a portable console which went on to sell over 150 million units worldwide and open up the gaming field to a wider audience for the first time.

The Nintendo Wii followed in 2006. At first the gaming industry was skeptical of the idea of motion control game-play, especially coming from a home console which seemed to eschew graphical fidelity in exchange for an innovative control method, but Iwata-san was quick to defend the idea.

“Making games look more photorealistic is not the only means of improving the game experience,” he said in 2005 at a game developers conference. “I know on this point I risk being misunderstood, so remember, I am a man who once programmed a baseball game with no baseball players. If anyone appreciates graphics, it’s me! But my point is that this is just one path to improved game. We need to find others. Improvement has more than one definition.

He was right. The Wii went on to sell over 100 million units during its lifetime, dominating the global market for almost half a decade and putting Nintendo back on the map.

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Mr. Iwata was notable as a president for his unconventional way of thinking. Not only was he never afraid to clown around and have fun (as the pictures on his page should nicely demonstrate) but he was also extremely honorable in the way he handled his business. When, in 2013, Nintendo shareholders demanded that Iwata cut staff in order to make up for disappointing year-end results, Iwata bravely refused to do so.

“If we reduce the number of employees for better short-term financial results, employee morale will decrease,” Iwata told the shareholders that year. “I sincerely doubt employees who fear that they may be laid off will be able to develop software titles that could impress people around the world.” Nintendo cut no staff and instead Iwata-san personally took a 50% pay cut to apologize for the less-than-satisfactory sales results.

It was this approach that characterized Iwata’s time in charge of Nintendo. Was he a perfect CEO? No. As any gaming critic will tell you, a lot of Nintendo’s decisions over the years often appeared out of touch and misguided. But he was a good man and a good manager above all. He led by example and was never afraid to put his own neck on the line in order to help his beloved Nintendo. I can’t help but respect a man who worked so tireless all the way to the end of his life. I’m sure that Iwata-san knew for some time that he was suffering from this condition and that it would likely lead to his death, yet never once did he allow any weakness to show. He worked right up until the end, securing in the last few months of his life deals with mobile giant DeNA and Universal Studios theme parks which I am sure will have a huge impact on Nintendo’s fortunes for years to come.

He was a likeable man. He clearly loved video games and he adored the fact that he was working in a job where he could make them every day.

“On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.”

RIP Mr. Iwata. You left an indelible mark on all of gaming. You will be missed.

RIP you crazy Japanese man

RIP you beautifully crazy Japanese man

Special thanks to The Guardian for the quotes used in this article.


The Screwtape Letters by C S Lewis

6 July 2015

stllewisMost book reviews are pretty simple things to write. All you need to do is talk about the plot for a while. You describe the characters and their interactions. You mention the style in which the book is written. You intersperse your review with quotes designed to back up your points and generally pepper your writing with a feeling that yes, indeed you have read this book and yes, your opinion should be trusted.

Occasionally, however, a book comes along that refuses to kowtow to the rules of other reviews. It has no plot, so you can’t describe that. It has only one character so there are no interactions to speak of. The style is like no novel you’ve ever read before and any quote you pull from it is just going to sound like academic discourse rather than a work of fiction.

Like this:

“Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is finding his place in it, while really it is finding its place in him.”

Or this:

“Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.”

C S Lewis’s seminal classic the Screwtape Letters is just such a book. Published in 1942, the novel takes the form of a series of letters written from a senior demon named Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood. Wormwood is on Earth tempting a man into damnation. Screwtape is in hell watching the situation from afar and providing his inept nephew with advice as well as admonishing him for his incompetence. We only ever read Screwtape’s half of the correspondence.

That’s where the philosophical discourse I mentioned comes in. Screwtape writes like a university lecturer speaking to a hall of students. His language is learned, his discourse is frank and laced with bitterness. Like Casey Cep writes in The New Yorker, it’s like theology in reverse and it’s like nothing else you’ll ever read.

Over the course of thirty-one letters, Screwtape lectures his nephew on the various ways to undermine faith and promote sin in humans. This is interspersed with observations on human nature and Christian doctrine in general. He makes a lot of interesting points.

“Whatever their bodies do affects their souls. It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out…”

But there is no ‘plot’ here as such. Sure, things happen. We learn that the human which Wormwood is tempting converts to Christianity. We learn that the human falls in love, that he worries about the war raging throughout Europe, that he has a strained relationship with his mother. But it’s all very theoretical and distant to us. Screwtape writes about these things like a doctor talking about a patient and there’s little opportunity to relate.

A stage depiction of Screwtape

A stage portrayal of Screwtape

 

Easier to relate to is Screwtape himself. His depiction of hell, for instance, and the way it is structured is a real highlight of the book and one of the more interesting examples of damnation I’ve come across in my reading. There’s no fire and brimstone here: Lewis’s hell is a dull, bureaucratic place stripped of any sort of fun. The sins which 99% of its inhabitants have committed are paltry things and Screwtape delights in the fact that most of them seem surprised to learn they ever sinned at all.

“It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

The way that C S Lewis is able to get inside the head of a demon and make it feel both believable and (shockingly) relatable is nothing short of genius. Screwtape feels like a living, breathing character. It’s true that he undergoes no character development over the course of the book but what else can we expect – he’s a demon? Likewise, nothing really happens to Screwtape. All the ‘plot’ happens to nephew and the human he is tempting. Even so, I found myself gaining a fondness for the titular demon. He is both extremely clever and yet very foolish at the same time. This is no more obvious than when he talks about his enemy (God):

“All His talk about Love must be a disguise for something else – He must have some real motive for creating [the humans] and taking so much trouble about them. The reason one comes to talk as if He really had this impossible Love is our utter failure to out that real motive. What does He stand to make out of them? That is the insoluble question.”

However, I’m not sure if I can honestly say that I enjoyed this book overall. One of the things I’ve always found most admirable about Lewis’s writing is the way he is able to distil extremely complicated philosophical issues into simple-to-grasp analogies and moments of character. Screwtape and Wormwood seem like they would have a lot of chemistry together on page. They both apparently hate each other. They both believe they are better at their job than the other. They are both held back from hurting each other by the convoluted hierarchies of hell. But we never get to see this first hand. Just like the book’s plot, it’s only ever inferred.

In comparison with Lewis’s other books, this absence is all too obvious. In Out of the Silent Planet, for example, we follow the main character as he interacts with all sorts of strange creatures in a search which ultimately culminates in him discovering who he himself is. In Perelandra we see an Eve analogy being tempted by the devil and how the main character’s attempts to keep her from sinning only in turn lead her to sin in other ways. In my favourite book of all times, Til We Have Faces, we learn how easily someone can use love as an excuse for selfishness without even realizing it.

C S Lewis: a very good writer

C S Lewis: a very good writer

These things teach us something about ourselves and human nature in general. We don’t need to be told them: we see them through character interaction and dialogue. In the Screwtape Letters, however, we would need to be told them – lectured them as of a teacher from the front of a classroom. That, for me, is where this book fell down. Philosophical discourse has its place in writing certainly, but given a choice between being shown something and lectured it, I would choose the showing every time.

Overall I liked the Screwtape letters but it left me feeling conflicted. If I wanted to read a book of Lewis’s philosophy I’d have read Mere Christianity or one of his other non-fiction books. The Screwtape Letters, however, fills an odd niche in writing: not quite a work of fiction yet not quite a book of philosophy either. It’s a curiosity, hard to review, even harder to sit through and ultimately not one which I would recommend in comparison with Lewis’s other works.

“Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”